Russian forces are giving up on Ukraine’s second city of Kharkiv and retreating after weeks of bombardment and a failed effort to encircle it.
Ukraine’s general staff said the Russians were pulling back from the northeastern city and focusing on guarding supply routes, as Kyiv and Moscow’s forces engaged in a grinding battle for the country’s eastern industrial heartland.
Russian forces will instead focus on launching mortar, artillery and airstrikes in the eastern Donetsk province in order to ‘deplete Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications.’
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said Ukraine ‘appears to have won the Battle of Kharkiv.’ It said, ‘Ukrainian forces prevented Russian troops from encircling, let alone seizing Kharkiv, and then expelled them from around the city.’
It means Ukrainian artillery can now threaten the town of Vovchansk, which contains a key highway and rail line supplying Russian forces in Donbas.
Pictured: A Ukrainian Army soldier walks past a burning natural gas terminal on May 13, 2022 on the northern outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine. Russian forces are giving up on Ukraine’s second city of Kharkiv and retreating after spending weeks bombarding it
Pictured: Ukrainian units patrol the surroundings of Kharkiv in the wake of the Russian retreat. Ukraine’s general staff said the Russians were pulling back from the northeastern city and focusing on guarding supply routes, as Kyiv and Moscow’s forces engaged in a grinding battle for the country’s eastern industrial heartland
Pictured: A destroyed Russian armored vehicle pictured on May 13, 2022 on the northern outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine. Russian forces will instead focus on launching mortar, artillery and airstrikes in the eastern Donetsk province in order to ‘deplete Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications’
The mayor of Kharkiv, Ihor Terekhov, told the BBC that Russian troops had only ever managed to enter a small part of the key north-eastern city once, and were not there for a long time.
‘The Russians were constantly shelling Kharkiv because they were staying very close to the city.’
But now that they had retreated, ‘people are gradually coming back to the city. We provide water, gas and electricity supply to all the citizens.
‘However, unfortunately, many residential buildings are destroyed or damaged. So, in the future we will have to do huge reconstruction.’
Regional governor Oleh Sinegubov said in a post on the Telegram messaging app that there had been no shelling attacks on Kharkiv in the past day.
He added that Russian troops had heavily minded the region and smaller towns and settlements were still under threat.
‘This indicates that it is too early to relax,’ he said. ‘I urge everyone to respond adequately to alarms and not to be on the streets unnecessarily.’
He said Ukraine had launched a counteroffensive near Izyum, a city 78 miles south of Kharkiv that has been under effective Russian control since at least the beginning of April.
Pictured: A damaged Russian tank near the village of Mala Rohan, near Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 13
A garden statue sits next to a damaged home on May 13, 2022 on the northern outskirts of Kharkiv
Fighting was fierce on the Siversky Donets River near the city of Severodonetsk, where Ukraine has launched counterattacks but failed to halt Russia’s advance, said Oleh Zhdanov, an independent Ukrainian military analyst.
‘The fate of a large portion of the Ukrainian army is being decided – there are about 40,000 Ukrainian soldiers,’ he said.
Russian efforts to surround front line cities Lysychansk and Severodonetsk by crossing the Donetsk river with pontoon bridges were repulsed yesterday when Ukraine correctly guessed their plans..
Satellite images lay bare the scale of the failure with the remains of two pontoon bridges drifting in the Donets River at Bilohorivka, west of the city of Lysychansk, surrounded by the ruins of tanks and armoured vehicles.
The remains of at least three Russian tanks and another four armoured infantry vehicles are seen on one bank of the river, along with other pieces of wreckage poking out from under the water
Observers have so-far counted the wrecks of at least 58 Russian vehicles including tanks, armoured infantry carriers, trucks and even one tugboat that was blown up trying to position the bridge
A Ukrainian military engineer who took part in the operation claims he correctly predicted where the Russians would try to put their bridge, allowing artillery to bombard the area
Russia attempted to bridge the Donets River to the west of the city of Lysychansk on May 8, apparently hoping to surround Ukrainian defenders dug in there – but were found out and massacred
Massive Ukrainian shelling and air strikes devastated the Russian forces assembled to cross the river and encircle the Ukrainian army.
Ukraine’s airborne command released photos and video of what it said was a damaged Russian pontoon bridge over the Siversky Donets River and at least 73 destroyed or damaged Russian military vehicles nearby.
Why is Kharkiv so important?
Kharkiv, in north east Ukraine, is just 30 miles from the Russian border and close to the Donbas region that is the focus of Russian invasion now that Putin has downsized his ambitions of conquest.
At 1.4 million inhabitants before the war, it was Ukraine’s second largest city. Another one million people live in the Kharkiv oblast.
Due to its size and location it was a major strategic target for Putin’s forces in the early days of the war.
Ukrainian defensive lines held firm against Russian attempts to encircle the city and instead the Russian army resorted to long range, indiscriminate shelling of the city for most of the duration of the war.
Now the Russians have abandoned hopes of capturing it in order to focus their forces in the Donbas region.
But this leaves the northern flank of Russian forces attempting to encircle the Ukrainian army exposed to Ukrainian counter attacks from this region.
Ukrainian artillery can now threaten the town of Vovchansk, which contains a key highway and rail line supplying Russian forces in Donbas.
Britain’s Defence Ministry said Russia lost ‘significant armoured manoeuvre elements’ of at least one battalion tactical group in the attack.
A Russian battalion tactical group consists of about 1,000 troops. The MoD said the risky river crossing was a sign of ‘the pressure the Russian commanders are under to make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine.’
Ukrainian commanders said late Wednesday that Russia’s offensive has now halted around Izyum, Kherson and Melitopol as Putin’s men are forced onto the defensive after running out of momentum.
If confirmed, it means the only active section of the frontline is in the southern portion of the Donbas – between Severodonetsk and Avdiivka, where limited Russian attacks are taking place – and in Mariupol where Ukrainian troops are still holding out inside the Azovstal steel works.
Though the fight is far from over, a stalled Russian advance and Ukrainian counter-attacks are what preceded Russia’s retreat from Kyiv earlier in the war. A similar retreat from Donbas would spell disaster for Putin.
Ukrainian president Volodymy Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation that Ukrainians were doing everything they could to drive out the Russians, but ‘no one today can predict how long this war will last.’
‘This will depend, unfortunately, not only on our people, who are already giving their maximum,’ he said. ‘This will depend on our partners, on European countries, on the entire free world.’
This week, the president and prime minister of Finland announced they want the Nordic nation to seek NATO membership.
Officials in Sweden could follow within days. The Nordic nations’ potential bids to join the Western military alliance were thrown into question when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country is ‘not of a favorable opinion’ toward the idea.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to meet his NATO counterparts, including the Turkish foreign minister, this weekend in Germany.